In an e-mail, Reginald Wells, Social Security Administration chief human capital officer, offered an early retirement option to the entire SSA work force. (Federal Times)
The Social Security Administration is dangling an early retirement option to its entire work force, according to an announcement obtained by Federal Times.
Employees age 50 or older with at least 20 years of creditable service are eligible, as are employees of any age with a minimum of 25 years service, Reginald Wells, the agency's chief human capital officer, said in the Friday e-mail to the SSA work force.
Those wanting to take advantage of the deal must let their immediate supervisors know by April 29, and be out the door by June 3, Wells said. Annuities tied to Civil Service Retirement System service will be permanently reduced by 1/6 of 1 percent for each full month that the employee is under 55, he said. There is no such reduction for annuities based on service under the Federal Employees Retirement System. The Social Security Administration currently has about 68,800 full-time equivalents and had expected that number to climb to almost 69,700 in fiscal 2012, according to its budget request.
For now, however, the agency is working under a partial hiring freeze imposed as a congressional budget stalemate has generally left funding at last year's levels.
While the latest early-out offer is not a first, "I'm sure that it has everything to do with the budget shortfalls," Randy Frye, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said in an e-mail. The association, part of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers union, represents the agency's judges.
At the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Social Security field operations staff, National Council President Witold Skwierczynski said in a phone interview that the agency makes the offer each year, but "usually they do it in April or May."
The Social Security Administration has extended early retirement offers almost every year since 1996, in part as a tool to shift employees from administration positions to areas where they can directly serve the public, spokeswoman Dorothy Clark said in an e-mail. Asked why the agency is this time allowing any eligible employee to take the early-out option, Clark said that option "offers maximum flexibility to redirect resources to areas of greatest need." SSA management has no target for the number of employees it would like to see leave, she added.
Also unclear is what impact the plan could have on efforts to reduce the longstanding backlog of disability claims. In the fiscal 2012 budget request released two weeks ago, the White House is seeking a $1 billion increase over fiscal 2010 to aid the Social Security Administration in processing some 822,500 cases next year and cut the wait time for a hearings decision to less than a year for the first time in a decade.
Like many other agencies, the Social Security Administration is also facing the prospect of deep cuts this year under a budget bill recently by the House of Representatives. Earlier this month, the agency notified AFGE that it wants to begin bargaining over the terms of possible employee furloughs.
On Wednesday, union members plan noontime informational pickets on the potential impact at Social Security offices in some 25 states, according to a Monday news release.